This fall I coached my six year old daughter’s soccer team. It was my first time coaching anything, ever, and I really wasnt much of a soccer player as a kid. I’m sure I embarrassed my dad (who was my team’s coach) as I kicked daisies and stood back and watched the other kids making it happen. Nonetheless, I had a hunch that coaching 6 year olds had little to do with either coaching or soccer experience and I was right.
Here in Seattle, we don’t keep score until kids are 10 or so, so I can’t quote a smashing record, but I can say that the season was a success based on the level of excitement, great attendance, and skills that I saw them develop through the season.
The tips below are not all mine–I consulted many different resources throughout the season to help me through this–but these are the things that contributed most to my successful season. Here it goes:
Top Ten Tips for coaching 6 year old soccer:
- Set the right expectations with parents before the season. I heard horror stories overly eager parents yelling at refs and kids from the sidelines. At this age making it fun and teaching good sportsmanship is more important than anything else. I decided that our goals as a team would be 1) have lots of fun, 2) introduce/learn teamwork and sportsmanship and 3) learn some basic soccer skills. I sent these goals out to all the parents before the season and repeated this to the girls at the first few practices. We had a great atmosphere at games.
- Recruit a team manager and assistant coach. I emailed all the parents to see if someone would volunteer to be the team manager. Helen volunteered. She was wonderful. She took care of all the details from arranging halftime snacks to planning the end of year party. Her efforts helped me spend more time focusing on coaching. Mark volunteered to be assistant coach–he was a great help as well bringing new ideas to practices and allowing us the break into smaller groups.
- Make it fun. There is nothing more important than this. I tried to keep things light. Laugh. Let each of them talk. Let them giggle. Have fun yourself and they’ll follow.
- Have a plan for every practice. There are tons of resources out there to help you plan practices. Use them. Be prepared.
- Get them involved. I did two things that helped set a team atmosphere. First, we chose our team name, (the Cheetahs) as a team–we picked our favorite animals and then voted. The other thing I did that was a big hit was that I let them each pick a warm up exercise at the start of each practice and game. I’d start off with 1-2 exercises and then we’d go around and they’d each have a chance to lead. This was great because it not only allowed them to practice being leader, but it also brought out some creativity (some of the girls began to make up crazy exercises.)
- Scrimmage. Spend at least 20 minutes every practice scrimmaging. There is nothing better to teach them than actually playing the game.
- Connect with them. We started most practices and games with a bit of chit chat. I asked each of them what they thought of the previous weekend’s game, what they were planning to wear on Halloween, and what was funny at school. I think this chit chat time allowed them to get to know each other. I also started high-fiving every practice and every game (usually at the end). The girls loved this. I’d get down at their level and they’d maul me with high fives. It was very cute.
- Play with them. Put your cleats (or running shoes) on and scrimmage with them. Its fun and you can demonstrate things like communicating (“I’m open!”) and passing, which are hard for them to learn. You don’t have to be very good, to be better than a 6 year old.
- Play sharks and minnows at the end of practice. We actually didn’t do this until the end of the season, but it was one of their favorite things, and I never saw them run faster.
- Stay in tune. When things deterioriate in practice (as they inevitably do), mix it up. When the girls start to lose focus, fool around, play in the dirt, etc, change drills, make them run. The key is to recognize when they’ve lost interest and do something about it.